If I were to describe Lavana in one word, it would be ambitious. The interior gives a hip Provencal shabby-chic vibe. The menu is reminiscent of something you would find in a trendy urban area. It is adventurous and fuses together flavors that you wouldn’t expect like a lime and chili marinated beef salad with Chinese cabbage and truffle vinaigrette; a French inspired dressing on an Asia centric salad. These are some bold choices, but for all that Lavanda hopes to achieve it hits one mark, but misses two.
My trip to Lavanda was one of my Eating, Gardening and Living (EGL) dinners; where anyone who follows my blog, Facebook or Twitter page is welcome to join, provided you live in Sofia, well you don’t have to live in Sofia… I don’t! For this particular dinner, I expected any where from 10 – 15 people. When I called to make my reservation, I left my name; Casey and the person taking the reservation replied “Casey Angelova”, so I guess I was expected? They told me that 15 would require us to be in our own room on two tables. As things are in Bulgaria, no one arrived at 7:00, people trickled in till 8:00-ish. As people came, the service staff didn’t seem to know what to do with us and gave off this feeling that they were annoyed and inconvenienced with the shuffling. I wasn’t the only one that noticed it.
With the lot of us, we pretty much ordered most things on the menu, which is ideal for me because I got to try everything. I started with an arugula salad, wine marinated figs, candied walnuts and a blue cheese dressing. The concept of the salad seemed wonderful; figs are a favorite of mine. When the salad arrived, the presentation was a mess and the dressing was a gooey. The delicate leaves were being crushed by the imposing sauce, which is counterintuitive; slight greens should be dresses as such and more resilient greens could be served with a thicker dressing. The positive note is that it was tasty, when you picked the arugula around the edge of the plate, but when I ventured towards the center it was just blob of blue cheese with a few leaves sticking out. It was too much and I didn’t finish it.
Another disappointing salad was called the Best Caesar Salad, which in my opinion was just setting themselves up for critics to weigh in. First off, a rule of salad is that it shouldn’t be eaten with a knife and fork. The lettuce should be torn, preferably or cut into bite size pieces (human bites). Second, the lettuce should be “dressed” with dressing, not drowned. This salad, as you can see in the photo contains huge pieces of iceberg; lettuce wasn’t meant to be cut. Another Caesar salad fauxpas is putting anchovy on the salad itself. A true Caesar mashes the whole anchovy to be used as part of the dressing. People might contest that point, but do your research.
Someone also ordered the mixed salad with marinated roasted peppers. The lettuce leaves were enormous. It honestly doesn’t look like a culinary professional prepared it, but some stage/ intern tossing things on a plate and the salad barely managed to stay put. On the bright side, the dressing was pretty good.
For the appetizers, someone ordered the tapas, which I guess was a pretty safe bet. I like the olive motif on the plate. The balsamic glazed peaches with baked cheese were pretty tasty and well presented. I appreciated that most of the dishes were garnished with fresh herbs and edible flowers; it was a nice touch.
The octopus was arguable the best thing of the night; a few people at the table got to sample the dish. It was full of flavor and most importantly the texture of the octopus was perfect, which is not something you find often in Sofia.
My main dish was the duck breast, which was brought to the table way to early. I was just about half way through my salad as it arrived. I hate eating cold food, especially if it is just sitting waiting to be eaten. A professional chef and their wait staff should understand timing. Don’t fire the main mid-salad… and if you do bring it early make sure it is at least fully cooked. The duck was still quacking when it hit the table, one other person at the table ordered the same dish and they were both a bit to rare. I sent mine back for a little more fire, but it didn’t matter.
The duck itself was pretty good, a tad rare but tender. The risotto was not risotto but rice with cheese and butter. It was heavy not creamy. The rice was molded on top of sautéed spinach to rest the duck on, but swimming in teriyaki sauce. It was way to much and completely over powered the duck. The way the dish was presented, the moment you tried to cut the duck you dipped into the teriyaki, which I am not sure was a sauce, but a bottle poured on the plate. I tried avoiding it but it was impossible. The consensus on the duck was to omit the teriyaki!
Another main entree choice was chicken on a bed of corn, a bit like succotash. According to the person ordering the dish, the chicken was nothing special. I tried the corn, which I though would have been sweeter with a nice texture, but they were mushy and starchy. Being that the corn on the plate was so prominent, I would have hoped for better flavors and ingredient selection,
In my six years of living in Bulgaria, I have never once heard from someone that when they ordered the ribs that they were good or even decent. It is like listening to a broken record when I ask people… what did you think of the ribs? The comment on this dish was that it tasted like they were covered in ketchup. Bulgarian’s tend to have a different idea of what ribs should taste like and it it not in line with American BBQ, regardless of the region of the US you are eating it.
My friend who ordered the beef gave it a glowing review. I had a nibble, but she ordered it rare and it was cooked perfectly, for me it was tender, but blue…
Not everyone deemed the night a total loss and despite my harsh criticisms neither do I. One of the reasons, I kept my expectations high was because the Executive Chef Dennitsa Doycheva, studied at a branch of Le Cordon Bleu in Orlando, Florida, USA. Le Cordon Bleu is world renowned and having studied at a school that also uses the classic french cuisine as it’s culinary model, I wanted to see if her experience abroad was reflected in the restaurant. The menu has potential, but I feel the desire to be unique outweighed the overall outcome of the dishes.
Lavanda has prospects, but there are some issues that need to be sorted out. The first and most important is letting customers know where it is located. If you go to the address listed on their Facebook page or listed below, you will come to One More Bar. What you need to know is to head towards the left of the courtyard, go around the back of the building, and upstairs to the second floor. I am not sure if they are trying to be intentionally obtuse, but maybe the hidden allure is part of the charm.
For more photos of the fabulous interior of Lavanda, check out this album on their Facebook page.
Ivan Shishman 12, Sofia, Bulgaria
Hours Mon – Sat: 12:30 pm – 11:00 pm
+359 (0) 88 224 9740